The Greatest Challenge Facing the Travel Industry: Column

The luxury travel industry is booming, no matter how you look at it. Last month at Luxury Travel Advisor’s ULTRA Summit, held at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, we heard firsthand from about 120 hand-selected luxury travel advisors—including agency owners, managers and young and excelling agents—and global suppliers who all said their phones are ringing off the hook. In addition, Jude Olinger, CEO of The Olinger Group and the event’s keynote speaker, shared intel on his firm’s hot-off-the-press 2023 trends report, titled “The Great Escape;” according to that research, luxury travelers are planning to take more vacations in the coming year, and they are also expecting to spend more on those vacations.

Matt Turner at Ultra
Matt Turner, editor, Questex Travel and Meetings Group, presents
at the 2023 ULTRA Summit in Scottsdale, AZ.
(Tim Fuchs)

That all said, not everything is peachy keen for advisors. In one “pop-up” session where advisors were given the floor to talk about their recent trips, insider’s secrets and more, one topic kept coming up, again and again: Air travel. And, spoiler alert, not much of it was positive.

According to Airlines Reporting Corp. (ARC), total passenger trips for 2023 through May were up 12 percent over 2022, but total airline fares for the same period are up 32 percent over 2022. In other words, despite airfare being a near record-high, it’s not stopping people from traveling. And when you also consider that the number of pilots and air traffic controllers since COVID has decreased, aircraft deliveries remain delayed and global airline and airport staff continue to go on strike, you realize the current air travel system is pushing, if it hasn’t already, exceeded its limits.

As one advisor put it at ULTRA, air travel—which is your client’s first and last experience when it comes to their vacation—is leaving a bitter taste in their mouths. In a later session, titled “Plotting 2023 and Beyond,” Jim Strong, president of Strong Travel Services, quipped that one way to avoid the messes at airports is to have everyone fly private. But, since not every client can afford that, he added, “It is incumbent on us to make sure that we advise our clients to use every advantage possible, whether it’s TSA Pre-Check or Mobile Passport Control if they don’t have Global Entry, any of these things that can help expedite them through the airport.”

Going back to the pop-up session, several advisors in attendance mentioned they use Royal Airport Concierges, which offers its services globally. The company can handle transportation and luggage, will fast-track clients through all the security lines (when possible) and offers a local concierge assistance that can help in the event of a change or disruption in flight schedules.

Dawn Johnson of Coastline Travel Advisors says that everyone at her agency uses Ops Global Gate, which offers curbside meet-and-greet service, baggage handling and VIP lounge access. Other such services that advisors recommended were Deluxe France, Well’Com Air, BER Runway and Global Airport Concierge; some of these are available at just one airport, others offer their services at multiple destinations. Jim Strong also said to take advantage of The Private Suite at Los Angeles International Airport (PS LAX), the Windsor Suite at Heathrow Airport and others like these.

So, air travel certainly poses a challenge in 2023, especially as more and more people resume their travels, but there are plenty ways that you can not only safeguard your client’s transportation but elevate it as well.

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